Do not take the title of this article as any indication that the Iowa basketball team is or should be satisfied with its current third place position in the Big Ten standings.
To do so would be a bit of an insult to head coach Fran McCaffery and his players, who have made it clear from the get-go that they expect to compete for a conference title this season. The 15th ranked Hawkeyes (19-6, 8-4 Big Ten) trail Big Ten leaders Michigan and Michigan State by a game apiece heading into the final two weeks conference play. Ultimately the goal is to be number one, but nearly as important for Iowa is to lock up a high seed for the postseason tournament in Indianapolis beginning March 13.
A top four regular season finish would be the highest for the Iowa program in years. It would also guarantee a first round bye in the aforementioned conference tournament, a luxury for any team that time of year.
Even more ideal than merely a top four seed is one in the top three (Duh right?). As simplistic as that may sound it actually carries quite a bit of weight in that being a third seed or higher probably avoids a quarterfinal match-up with a ranked and experienced Ohio State team that currently sits in fifth. If you were to ask Iowa fans if they’d rather face the Buckeyes or the likes of Nebraska/Minnesota/Purdue the preference would almost assuredly be for the latter option.
Seeding and match-ups play a role in assisting how far a team might advance in a conference tournament, and the result can affect just how high a team moves up the seed line for the big tournament in late March. Every team will be striving for all of these things when the time comes, and a guy like me behind a computer has the wonderful opportunity to examine these future possibilities.
With all of that being said, Iowa’s game against 16th ranked Wisconsin (21-5, 8-5 Big Ten) today presents the perfect opportunity to kill two Badgers with one victory (That is how the saying goes right?). These north eastern neighbors find themselves a game back of the Hawkeyes, and are looking to erase the gap as they visit Iowa City. Should they win, the Badgers will pull even with Iowa in the loss column and would also own the tiebreaker by virtue of a sweep of the season series.
If the Hawkeyes can find a way to grab the victory today they will be two games clear of fourth place, while having eliminated any head-t0-head tie-breaking scenario with the pursuing Badgers.
Iowa is playing just its third game in the past two weeks due an unusual postponement that occurred on Tuesday, so the team should be well rested and itching to get back out on the floor. I expect the Hawkeyes to come out with similar energy and tenacity to that which helped them blow out a talented Michigan team at home a few weeks ago.
The Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry has developed nicely in recent years, and today’s contest should only add to that trend. Look for Iowa to put on an impressive performance in front of a fired up Carver Hawkeye Arena crowd, and pull away for a 77-68 win.